JIMMIE JOHNSON, No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS, 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Champion MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's special post-season NASCAR teleconference with our guest, the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series ...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS, 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Champion
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's special post-season NASCAR teleconference with our guest, the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series champion, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Jimmie took a 63-point lead into this past Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. A ninth place finish in the Ford 400, enabled him to fend off the other four drivers also in the championship contention and claim the series title for the first time.
Jimmie, welcome, congratulations. How is it sinking in now two days later?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's an amazing feeling to be able to be a champion. It's something I always wanted to be, worked my whole career to get to this point. Just a great time for myself, Hendrick Motorsports, the race team, Lowe's. Everybody is just happy as you could ever imagine.
MODERATOR: We'll now go on to questions from the media for our 2006 champion, Jimmie Johnson.
Q: As much as you want to take some time to enjoy this, how much are you now looking forward to 2007, being able to race a full season without the stigma of: When is he going to be able to win the Cup?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm letting other people worry about that right now. I'm enjoying this ride. The shop is working hard at it. They're working on the Car of Tomorrow we're going to need to race next year. Our current staff, those guys are working hard to get prepared for next year. I think I'll have some closure after the banquet. Definitely enjoy what we've done here in 2006. That's something I don't typically do, is sit back and reflect and enjoy. I'm going to let this soak in. I'm not sure when this chance to be on top of the world will come back or ever come up again, so I'm going to enjoy it.
Q: If the champion is the face of the sport, what image would you like to project for NASCAR or what kind of message about the sport would you like to represent in your year as champion?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: First thing that comes to mind is looking at the road that I went down to get to this point in my career. I think it speaks volumes for NASCAR, how we're evolving as a sport, that drivers from all walks of life, all forms of motorsport, can succeed in our sport. With my two-wheel background, off-road buggies and trucks, up through ASA, into Busch, I didn't grow up racing at a local short tracks, so through a lot of hard work, very interesting background in racing, I've been able to make it to this level.
Q: What has been the most surprising thing to you since becoming champion?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: To be honest, I haven't had much time to even take a breath. We left the track at midnight, had an awesome celebration with the crew guys, very early morning on Monday to come up to Bristol, Connecticut, to do the ESPN tour. Now I'm in Manhattan going through all the paces. I haven't had a chance to really let it soak in and experience much of it. I just know the respect that I've had looking up to the other drivers in the sport that have been champions. As the experience wears on, we get into banquet week next week, I can't wait to see my other drivers and friends and people throughout the garage area, catch up with them, spend some time with them.
Q: Can you give me a rundown of what your Monday and today are like as far as appearances and stuff like that.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Monday morning I was greeted at sunrise by my crew chief and a group of friends, including Mike Hampton from the Atlanta Braves, with a champagne spray. My wife and I were asleep. I don't know how in the world they got a room key to get in. I was trying to catch a couple hours sleep before our days started. Those clowns barged in and nailed me like you've never seen. Then we traveled to Connecticut, went through all the ESPN paces yesterday. Traveled to Manhattan, got back to my apartment maybe 8:00 last night. Then this morning, up, GMA this morning, then to Regis and Kelly, variety of phone calls. A lot of phone calls yesterday as well. Different media interviews with radio stations and such. Then I have Letterman this afternoon.
Q: With everything you've accomplished, last year when Tony was asked this question, he said he wanted to win the Daytona 500. What is left on your resume that you feel is empty? Is it just now you want to do everything a second time? Anything left you want to fulfill in your career?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's a great question. I have been so blessed, so fortunate to win all these big events, the championship now. I guess the second time is really something that I'm looking at. A personal goal that I have is to get better on the road courses. I can run fair, run in the top 5, top 10, but I really want to be up there racing with the 20 and 24 for those victories. As I look into next season, the racetracks that we have ahead of us, that's something I really want to focus on.
Q: Much has been made about you kind of getting over the hump of the last few years, being close, breaking through. Have you had much of a chance to think about sort of the backwards long-term, how easy it would have been to top out at any of those other levels along the way?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I remember coming through all the different levels. I only spent two years in any division. I was on a fast pace moving through the different classes, vehicles, from dirt to asphalt, on and on. I knocked on the championship door and was around it. I competed for one in ASA and also in the off road, the final two years in off road that I ran in the Midwest. I got into Busch. I think my best was an eighth. I really wasn't in the hunt for the points. Through that, I hope that I get some point in my career to really peak. Really didn't start peaking until I got into Cup. There's been points along the way here where I thought, Wow, if it all ended tomorrow without the championship, I've had an amazing, amazing career, so much to be thankful for. As the years go by, things keep getting sweeter, better, more success keeps coming. It's just been an amazing ride.
Q: Have you gotten a chance to have any conversations with any of the little people that helped you along the way lately?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No one yet. I have some big plans to sit down on the phone when I get home tomorrow and go through and call a lot of people from the past, everybody I have a phone number for.
Q: When you left Kansas, I think that's where you had the problems on pit road with the speeding penalty, you were like 165 out of first. Did you feel at all like your chances were slipping away? Did you have to sit down and regroup and say it's not over yet?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We had a very good outlook on things. Even though things were stacked against us, we really just wanted to perform. We wanted to show what this team was capable of doing in the Chase. Even if we didn't end up with the big prize at the end, we just wanted to go out and run well, be respected for our performance, our effort, just go out and race, and race well. Kansas was the start of things for us. We had more of a letdown from dominating the race and not winning the race than anything. I think after Talladega, that was probably the low of emotions in the championship. But still at that time no one ever said, We can't do this. I mean, the meetings we had, the gatherings we had at the racetrack, just being around each other, we just kept telling ourselves, This isn't over, keep fighting, it's not over.
Q: I don't know how much you remember about this, but when you made your first starts for Rick at the end of 2001, I think you ran three races. Do you remember much about that at all, what kind of expectations you went into those races with?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: At that point I was just worried about making the event. I really didn't have a lot of pressure from anyone. Those three races were a chance for me to get my feet wet. I just remember the pressure of qualifying, getting in the show. As the rookie season started, I knew deep down inside that I needed to win a race, I needed to make my mark in that 48 car, especially with Jeff coming off of a championship season. The real pressure started my rookie year.
Q: Looking at this whole season, it just seems you started out the season maybe facing some adversity with Chad having to be on the sidelines, maybe sort of a little bit of a struggle midway, came back and win at Indy, then obviously with the Chase. Sort of seemed like the key to this season for you was not necessarily the highs but how you handled the lows. Could you talk about that, if you agree with that statement?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think what we were faced with at the beginning of the year as we look back, that really was the defining moment for this race team, period. Not only the season, but also just us in general. Chad is a self-admitted workaholic. He just puts himself through too much. As last year wound down, he admitted, we all recognized, he just worked too hard and burned himself out. We had a plan in effect for him to start counting on more people, surrounding him with guys he really trusted and believed in. He started building that confidence in those guys over the off-season. We hit Daytona. He was suspended. We were like, we really need to live by this theory, we're forced to. Through that, I think that set the pace for the year. Chad was able to pass on responsibilities to other guys, had some free mental space to focus on the right things.
Continued in part 2